Training in NYC (Aug. 3-6 2011)
Ever since I first started practicing jiu-jitsu around this time last year, I knew that one day I had to make the trip up to New York City and experience for myself the main academy I’ve heard so much about. And so, around 7:00 AM last Wednesday, fellow teammate Derek Lukas and I boarded the Megabus downtown and embarked on our journey to the famous Renzo Gracie Academy; located in the heart of the Big Apple. About six or seven hours later, we finally arrived at our destination. After settling down in our hotel and doing some sightseeing, we decided it was time to make our way down to Renzo’s and explore this mecca of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Once we got to 224 W 30th St., Derek and I eagerly passed through the golden doors and descended the staircase leading downstairs. There we immediately recognized the all-too-familiar lion emblem popping out everywhere we looked. This was it; Renzo Gracie Academy. We entered the front office and talked to Mario Mercado, one of the program directors. He gladly granted us access to train there for the duration of our stay and generally made us feel welcome and at home. Shortly after, we donned our gis and awaited the the start of the 8:00 PM class. We got there a little early, so I decided to kill some time by observing one of the advanced classes. Just then, I heard someone next to me say “You’re welcome to sit on the mats while you watch.” I looked over, and saw the man himself: Renzo Gracie! After introducing ourselves and shaking hands with the legendary martial artist, Derek and I explained to Renzo that we were visiting from Pittsburgh. He replied by saying he was happy that we came and gave us both a big smile. Needless to say, it was quite an unforgettable experience. Afterwards, we explored the facility and took in the atmosphere for a bit longer; but before we knew it, 8:00 had come. It was time to get down to business.
The class started off with a warmup that was very similar to the one we’ve performed countless times back home; although it was a little more intense. Once we got a sweat going, the instructor showed us a simple judo throw. It involved stepping behind your opponents’ lead leg and tripping it while pushing him or her forward. After drilling that for a couple minutes, we moved on to a cross choke from the mount position. The instructor’s thick Brazilian accent made him difficult to understand at times and there were a couple occasions where Derek and I found ourselves a bit lost, but we still managed to keep up as most of the instruction was review for us. Next, we began positional training from mount which quickly escalated to full live sessions. It was a little surprising that the majority of class time was devoted to free-rolling, but at the same time I was glad I got such a nice workout in. After class was over, we got some food and retreated back to our hotel. Hours and hours of traveling that morning and some hard training in the evening made us pass out the moment our heads hit the pillows.
Derek and I spent the next day finding out what the city of New York had to offer. It was my first time ever in the Big Apple and his in a long time, so we felt like we had a lot of ground to cover. We ate good food, ran into some interesting people, and explored as much as we could. Thankfully the weather was perfect which allowed us to spend most of the day outside; roaming around the big city. We visited Central Park, hung out in Times Square, and experienced some of the exciting New York nightlife. Simply put, there was always something to do and a dull moment was never to be found.
On our third day in NYC we went back to the Renzo Gracie Academy for another round of jiu-jitsu. This time we were taught by Magno Gama, a professor. He was much more easy-going and friendly than our previous instructor, who was very traditional and strict. The class flowed much the same way as on Wednesday. We started off with a good warmup as usual then moved on to another judo technique, this time a tricky variant of the Seoi Nage. The professor also showed us some effective back escapes which helped me a lot because I feel it’s an element of my game I need much improvement on. Next, it was time to go live again and get some good rolling in. I noticed the white belt students at the main academy had some pretty sharp technique. Even some of the ones with no stripes seemed to have a good understanding of the basics. This was one of the best jiu-jitsu schools on the planet, and it definitely showed. After the training session, it was time to say goodbye to Renzo Gracie Academy as the end of our trip drew near. I felt bummed out that we had to leave the next day, but I knew for a fact I’d return soon.
Sitting on the bus heading back to Pittsburgh, I reflected on the last couple of days and realized what a great experience it was. It’s hard to believe that only last August I was sitting at my computer searching for a nearby school where I could learn the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Who would have known that only a short year after, I’d be standing in the middle of Manhattan, shaking hands with Renzo Gracie himself!